Author Archive
Folk Beliefs

Theatrical Folk Belief: Ghost Light

Informant: “At the end of each theater performance a lone light is pulled onto the stage because legend has it that without a light ghosts play around and will mess up the set so you have to leave a light on”

The informant heard another version of the folk belief which says that “the light is turned on so that when the ghosts go to play around on the stage they have a light to see and don’t bump into things on the stage.”

The informant learned about this folk belief when he served as a member of the technical theater production crew for his high school. The light would be set “in the middle of the stage every time there was a set onstage, from the first time work is begun on the set until the last night of the performance.” The informant said that this tradition was passed on from the older crew to the younger crew informally because the younger crew would learn from example when they saw the older crew place the light on the stage. According to the informant, this was not an important duty and was actually seen as something akin to a chore. As a member of the technical crew, the informant would have to “drag the light out every night” after the performance. Putting up the light was “just something that needed to be done before the tech crew could go home.” Also, according to the informant, the light consisted of “a light bulb on top of a portable light stand.”

The informant does not believe in the “superstitious” reason for putting up the light, but he says there are practical reasons for the light. The informant said “the reason for the light is so that no one walks onto the stage in the dark and trips over something and breaks it.”

The informant said that the light is important because the tech crew sometimes has to work on the set after hours, and they have to cross the stage to get to the electrical panel to turn on the set lights. Thus, it is helpful to have a light so they can see and not bump into things on stage or fall off the stage. In addition, the crew has put a lot of effort into making the set so they want to prevent it from being damaged.

I thought this was an interesting folk belief because not only does this belief have superstitious roots, but it is also extremely practical. From talking with the informant and from online research, there are many different theatrical superstitions, and some are more common and widely used than others. From what I could find, this particular folk belief is very popular, even the Broadway stage uses the ghost light.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve

Informant: “On Christmas eve children are not allowed to enter the room where the Christmas tree is going to be in, until given permission by their parents. Children are told that Baby Jesus brought the tree and the gifts for them. Though, sometimes it is just the gifts that Baby Jesus is responsible for”

 

The informant is a first generation American who was born in Danbury, Connecticut. She is a middle aged woman with two older children. Her father was born in Oriente, Cuba and her mother was born in Mór, Hungary. The informant did not believe in this baby Jesus lore herself, but heard about this belief from her mother. Her mother told the informant and her sisters of this lore when they were young children approximately six or seven years of age.

Although the Baby Jesus tradition was not actively practiced in the informant’s family, it was actively practiced and believed in her mother’s family when her mother was a child. The informant said that her mother and her family “would go to church and when they got back Baby Jesus would have magically decorated the room and brought gifts.”

The informant and her sisters found the lore to be amusing, and they would sometimes say to things to each other such as “Baby Jesus wouldn’t like that” to jest about the idea of Baby Jesus. She also liked the idea of Baby Jesus because it was different from her cultural experience and “sparked the imagination.” Furthermore, the informant felt that the idea of Baby Jesus really cemented the concept of Christianity during Christmas because belief in Baby Jesus took the focus away from figures like Santa Claus and reemphasized the “real point of the holiday of Jesus’s birth.”

I agree with the informant that this lore effectively brings Christ back into the focus of Christmas because now Baby Jesus is responsible for the Christmas tree and the gifts rather than a character like Santa Claus. As an Episcopalian, I am not a very devoutly religious Christian, but my family and I do go to church on Christmas Eve. Oftentimes, the pastor will spend some time to discuss how people (in reference to other Christians) can forget the reason behind the celebration of Christmas, that it is ultimately the day of Jesus’s birth, rather than just a day of gift-giving and festivities. It seems some Christians consider overlooking the importance of Jesus on Christmas a very serious problem, and methods like this can help alleviate this perceived problem.

Customs
Legends
Narrative

Camp Lore: Lemonade Tower

Informant: “Every year at camp Kinneret, the camp counselors bring all the campers up to the lemonade tower and give them lemonade from the mermaids who live in the tower.”

 

The informant is currently a freshman in high school and lives in Calabasas, a particularly wooded area for Southern California. The informant recollected this experience from when he was a younger child attending Camp Kinneret, a summer day camp for children aged 4 -14, during the summer. The informant was approximately five years of age when he learned of this legend from his camp counselor.

According to the informant, at some point every summer the camp counselors will take the children enrolled in the camp on a hike to a nearby water tower, give them lemonade, and tell them the story of the tower. The legend was that mermaids lived in the tower and had made the lemonade for the campers who visited them. The purpose of the legend, according to the informant, was that “kids get lemonade and it gets the kids to be excited to be at a camp where there are mermaids who can make lemonade.” When asked how the informant felt about the lore he said that as a child he did believe in the mermaids and that he “thought it was awesome that mermaids were giving me lemonade.”

In the camp, this legend is age graded because as those who attended the camp got older they no longer believed in the mermaids who lived in the tower, but the informant said the counselors would tell them “not to spoil the story for the younger kids.”

I agree with the informant that this legend is a great way to get campers excited to be at camp, especially because the legend is focused on younger members, around four to six, who might be afraid to be away at a camp.

Folk Beliefs

Farrier Lore: If a horse has a glass eye, he will always kick on that side

Interview

Informant: “Here’s one for a fact. You know how some horses have a blue eye or a glass eye, if that horse is gonna kick, he’ll kick with the side that has a glass eye. That doesn’t mean the other side won’t kick, but if you’re gonna get kicked it’ll be on the side that has that glass eye”

 

Collector: “Why is that? Do you think it is because they do not see as well on that side?”

 

Informant: “I don’t know, I don’t know but if you hit one of em with a whip haha he’s gonna kick. He’ll hit with that one.”

 

The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

Sometimes a horse has an eye that is a clear, light colored, or blue-ish colored eye. The coloring of the eye does not physically mean anything as far as the informant knows; the coloring of the eye is similar to other animals like malamutes who have eyes of different colors. This piece of occupational lore is especially important for farriers because they work with horses’ feet and can get kicked. A horse kick is definitely something to be avoided because it is very painful and can even break bones. In fact, when asked how he felt about the lore, the informant said “I do know that one about the glass eye, that ones true. Let me tell ya.”  “I’ve been kicked.” Therefore, being aware that a horse has a “blue or glass” eye and a propensity to kick on a particular side would be helpful to avoid injury, especially for someone who has previously been kicked by a horse.

It is interesting that the reason the horse will kick on a particular side is unknown. I wonder if it does have to do with the horse’s ability to see out of a particular eye. Personally, my mother owns a horse and I sometimes work around horses, so I will definitely remember this information and probably pass it on if I ever see a horse with a blue or glass eye. Apparently “Pinto horses,” horses with big spots, are more likely to have blue or glass eyes.

Life cycle
Old age

Farrier Lore: Laying down the hammer

Informant : “Horseshoe-ers when you lay your hammer down for the last time the only thing you have to look forward to is dying”

 

The informant is a kind, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He shod his first horse when he was 13, and so he has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or  shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.* The informant learned of this lore from a fellow farrier during his many years in the trade.

When asked what the informant thought of the saying, he stated “…layin the hammer down. I used to think it was funny, but now, now I’m startin’ to believe it.” This particular lore is very relevant to the informant because he is “reaching that time when I’ll have to put my hammer down.” This saying indicates a right of passage. When the older and experienced farrier is going to retire, he will “lay his hammer down for the last time.”

The informant is very passionate about his profession and really enjoys working with horses, so I find that this is a somewhat depressing saying. Furthermore, having been born and raised in a society that avoids death and treats death as a taboo topic such a statement is disconcerting. We do not like imagining those we know passing away or acknowledging that they might.

Folk Beliefs

Scratch your nose, you’ll kiss a fool

Informant: “Scratch your nose, you’ll kiss a fool”

 

The informant is a Caucasian male from northern California. He is currently a freshman at USC studying business administration. He is also a member of a fraternity.

The informant said he learned this saying from his mother when he was a young boy. The informant explained that the saying meant that “if you got an itchy nose the next person that you kissed was a fool.”

This saying was meaningful to the informant because he had fond memories surrounding the lore. He stated that “I always remember that when I was a kid like I would get an itchy nose and my mom would always say it to me and then give me a kiss on the cheek, or when she got an itchy nose she would do it to me.” Thus, the lore would serve as a way to establish rapport between the informant and his mother through gentle teasing.

This saying is somewhat common as it can be easily found on the internet on numerous websites, and there are many other variants about scratching your nose. Some are quite similar and others are not. The more similar variants state that if your nose itches you are going to “shake hands with a fool,” or “meet a fool.” Others not so similar versions maintain that if your nose itches it means “someone is thinking of you,” “someone loves you,” you are going to “have a quarrel with someone,” “you’re confused about something,” or “a visitor is coming.”

Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection

Biker Bell

Informant: “Among bikers that is just something you don’t do and also it is popular to get a little iron bell. They’re like these tiny little bells that you just attach to the front of your bike and normally other people buy them for you and you just put them on there before you ride otherwise its not as safe I guess. Its just weird little things in the biker culture I guess.”

 

The informant is from Beaumont, California and lives in a family where motorcycles are very common, “everybody in my family, especially my dad and my grandfather, are bikers.” Moreover, the informant said, “I like grew up in a garage pretty much. That’s what my dad does and my dads dad. My dad, he’s a welder, and he builds and rides his own bikes and he has a lot. I don’t know how many he has. He does old ones though, like the ones from the 30s and 40s and then my grandpa was the leader of the Vagos when biker gangs were huge.”

The informant said that she first learned about this lore when she was a young girl because putting a bell on a motorbike is family tradition, “whenever my dad would get a new bike he would get a bell for it.” However, the informant said that you need to get a bell as a gift; you cannot go buy one on your own. The bell should be low to the ground and is usually attached with leather, though people use different things like zip ties etc. When put on a motorcycle, the folk belief states that the bell will ensure a safe ride. As someone who comes from a family of bikers, she is aware that many things can happen to bikers if they are going to go on a ride for an extended period of time. Thus, there is an incentive to have the loved one return safely, so you give them a bell. Furthermore, the informant and her family do believe in the paranormal so she figures putting a bell on the bike can’t hurt.

After doing some research online, I found these bells can be called, Ride Bells, Karma Bells, Gremlin Bells, and Guardian (Angel) bells, among others. The most popular names were the Karma and Gremlin Bell.

The practice of putting a bell on a motorcycle comes from an old legend regarding road gremlins or evil road spirits. The bell will scare away these creatures, and it prevents them from causing harm to you and your bike. The gremlin’s are said to cause many different problems such as mechanical problems like causing turn signals to malfunction, the battery to die etc, as well as small items in the road and problems caused by other motorcyclists.

Apparently, some people who do not believe in the tradition still give bells as a gesture of good will, and others find the bell represents that “someone cares about you.” Thus, it seems that the tradition has moved from just chasing away road spirits to a gesture of concern and kindness for a loved one.

Lastly, there are actually a few companies based around the sale of Gremlin bells, so the practice seems to be quite common.

Below are some images of Biker Bells

           

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

Summer Camp Customs and Lore: The Announcements Song

Informant: “So I went to camp cedars every summer. The weekend after fathers day since the time I was about eleven until um… maybe about fifteen or so was the year I decided that I should be a camp counselor at camp cedars. Great time. I spent the whole summer out there, I was actually going to go to a camp-out one week, uh when the rest of my troop was, but I decided it would be more fun just working again for that week. It was a very enjoyable time. One of the… I guess, every day for every meal of the day, there would be a couple of announcements that um the staff would have to share with all of the campers, but they couldn’t say that. ‘Announcements’ was a bad word at camp cedars. It’s been a bad word as long as anyone has known. It’s such a bad word that the moment anyone says the word announcement no matter who it is or what context, they are immediately surrounded by all of the staff members in the area and this happened about once a week, sometimes more, um one time three days in a row the same guy uttered it while giving the announcements. So, uh when someone said announcements they were ridiculed for the next five minutes or so and um everyone else sang the announcements song. Which um I don’t remember all of the verses but it started something like:

(to the tune of the farmer in the dell)

Announcements, announcements, annoouuuncements!

A wonderful way to die, a wonderful way to die

A wonderful way to start the day, a wonderful way to die!

Announcements, announcements, annoouuncements!

 

(unknown)

We sold our cow

We sold our cow

We have no use

For your bull now.

 

(to the tune of the more we get together)

Have you ever seen a windbag, a windbag, a windbag?

Have you ever seen a windbag? well there’s one right now.

Blows this way and that way and this way and that way

Have you ever seen a windbag? well there’s one right now.

 

(To the tune of London bridge is falling down)

Words of wisdom, words of wisdom,

Here they come, here they come:

More words of wisdom, more words of wisdom:

Dumb dumb dumb, dumb dumb dumb

 

The informant, a Caucasian male, was born in Spokane, Washington and then moved to Omaha. He is currently a student at USC and studies computer science.

The informant learned the song when he was about eleven years old “the first time we went to camp cedars so the very first summer.”Camp Cedars is a Boy Scout summer camp. The informant attended the camp for about five or six years and was a counselor for one year. As a camper, he didn’t really worry about saying the taboo word because it was usually just the staff that ended up saying it when giving announcements. In addition, the informant “was never really giving announcements, so I never had to worry about saying the word.” Because announcements were a daily thing, they usually had to be referred to as A-words or some other euphemism.

The informant felt that the traditions were around to raise morale, keep the counselors from getting bored, and build a rapport between all of the members of the camp. The informant said that there were “many, many, many traditions” at this camp. Additionally, these traditions were just a fun thing.

He first learned the words of the song from watching the counselors perform the song; he especially recalls this song because he thought, “it was ridiculous and it happened all the time.” The informant said “I encountered it probably over a dozen times being a camper plus the summer when I worked there maybe another dozen or two times, so very repeated and it’s a lot of fun too – being the staffer and being the one who is singing the song, making fun of whoever happened to inadvertently say the word or intentionally… like I’m sure the guy who said it three times in a row was not entirely accidental”

In a way, this song and folk tradition appears to be a parody of tabooistic discourse because the camp tradition turned an ordinary word into something taboo, forcing camp members to find euphemisms for an otherwise innocuous word.

Legends
Narrative

Ghost Story: Smoking in the Boiler Room

Informant: “Millard North High school in Omaha, Nebraska is haunted with the spirit of a kid who was smoking one day in the boiler room. Now, I didn’t even know we had a boiler room but apparently it’s over by the wood shop. Uh, in that hallway. So, this kid was smoking in the boiler room and um a custodian started to walk down the hallway and frightened the kid uh turned around and tried to run away tripped and stumbled down the stairs, hit is head a few too many times and now when you walk past that hallway or walk into the basement, which again I didn’t really know we had a basement, but you can hear the kid’s raspy voice telling you to beware.”

The informant, a Caucasian male, was born in Spokane,Washington and then moved to Omaha. He is currently a student at USC and studies computer science.

The informant heard the story from someone at his high school. He remembers this story because he feels that “ghost stories are always more fun when they have some sort of significance to you, like you have ties to that school, for example, or if it’s in your home town.” According to the informant, the story is not “too frequently passed around,” and he is not sure if anyone at the school truly believes it, or just repeats the story as a joke.

The informant does not believe in ghosts personally, he thinks the story is kind of silly. In fact, the informant stated, “honestly, I’m not even sure if we have a basement.” The informant said that some kids at the school “fall for all of the ghost stories,” but “in many schools there will be some kids who believe that sort of thing.” The informant referred to one friend in particular who believes in ghosts about whom the informant said “I mess with him a lot and he thinks I am entirely serious.” It is possible that this story is circulated as a joke and to “mess with” students who may believe it, but the informant does not think so.

The informant says that “the moral was no smoking in the basement,” and I agree with the informant. Although the story may be used to jest about the paranormal, it ultimately discusses the illegal consumption of marijuana at a school, and the result is death. The student who broke the law is now forced to haunt the hall and warn other students not to make the same mistake. Like other legends, this tale reflects social fears and concerns about the consequences of consuming illegal drugs, breaking the law, and breaking the law on school property.

Legends
Narrative

Popular Haunted House Hang Out

Interview Clip

Informant: “There is like this oak tree that everybody goes to party at and then there is this burnt down house next to it and it is just these steps and I think the legend goes that this lady just like went crazy and burned the house down and killed her husband”

Interviewer: “Do you know who she was?”

Informant: “I don’t know, its just this circulating legend.”

 

The informant comes from a very small town in California. The informant states that “there is nothing to do there, it is just a small town and the biggest thing we have is a Walmart.” She said that because the town is small “everybody knows each other, and we kind of grew up together.”

The informant has lived in this town since childhood. The informant says she may have heard of this legend in elementary school and that this legend is widely known throughout the town, “everybody in out town knows it. Young people circulate the story, I don’t know if older people do or not.”

The informant stated that visiting this house is a relatively popular event. Adolescents sometimes “have parties there,” and go there to hang out. Personally, the informant has only been there a few times just to check it out, but “I know people that actually go up there and actually drink and whatnot and smoke because there is not really much to do.”

The informant thinks the house is considered to be haunted by the other people in town, and the informant does believe in ghosts. When asked, the informant recalled her personal experience with a ghost saying that “the house I grew up in until I was seven was definitely haunted, I saw his ghosts multiple times, and it wasn’t just me, my parents saw him. We would go to bed with all of the windows and doors shut and we would wake up and they would all be wide open, you would hear banging on the pipes and whatnot. We found out that the person who lived there before us died in the house. So the ghost was of the guy that died there.” Thus, ghosts are very real to the informant.

For the informant and others who visit the house, the house serves as a kind of legend quest to visit a site that is considered to be haunted. During the interview, the informant stressed that she felt the town she came from was very small so people were looking for things to do and places to hang out. This house has been adopted to fill that role.

[geolocation]